If you travel east from where the Indian Ocean meets the shores of South Australia, it won’t take you long to reach one of The Land Down Under’s most well-known and loved wine regions, Coonawarra. While it means “honeysuckle” in the tongue of the Aborigines, the color red is the first thing that leaps to mind when we speak Coonawarra’s name. Red wines which emerge from red soils. Any list ranking the famous terroirs of the wine world would feature Coonawarra and its terra rossa soils. The harmony of climate, soil and topography has spurred intrepid winemakers on to create inspired wines and lured wine lovers to its rust-colored land for decades.
South Australia’s Limestone Coast may only have a viticultural history which reaches back to the 19th century, but the geological history that laid the foundation for that winemaking goes back eons. The stretches of terra rossa are believed to be caused by iron oxides in the soil, which oxidize as the limestone around them decomposes and they’re exposed to air. As iron oxidizes, it turns a vibrant rusty red, hence the color of the soil. This mineral is essential to photosynthesis and plays a key role in making the wine here such a thing of beauty.
Aussie wine origins date to the early to mid-19th century, but it wasn’t until the end of the 1800s that the first vines were planted in Coonawarra. Scotsman John Riddoch was the first to recognize that potential for Coonawarra, planting his vines in 1890. Bill Redman took over part of the property in 1908 after Riddoch’s untimely death, and while he successfully oversaw a few decades’ worth of vintages, recognition of Coonawarra as a major wine appellation was still to come. During that time, Redman was the only winemaker to produce wines in the entire region. Finally, in the 1950s, Samuel Wynn bought up the original Riddoch estate, and Coonawarra, as we know it today, began to take shape. Beyond being home to some of Australia’s finest wines, winemakers in Coonawarra led the charge towards dry table wines in the days when Australia was known for its “stickies,” fortified dessert wines which failed to capture the hearts and palates of wine lovers worldwide.
As for the wines themselves? Phenomenal Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Merlot, Shiraz and even Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are all made here. The maritime climate is rounded out with Mediterranean influences and makes for some seriously elegant wines – if you’re a fan of more refined Cabs, Coonawarra is the place to look. Coonawarra Cabs are all blackberry and cassis, with perfectly balanced tannins and acidity which make them excellent contenders for the cellar. If you can’t bear the waiting, you’ll find that most of these wines are ready to drink as soon as you bring them home. A refreshing change from other New World Cabernets which can come across as being too ripe and jammy and heavily oaked. They’re generous in flavor but still tow the line of restraint. Available on every end of the price spectrum, Coonawarra offers it all; everyday drinking wines to outrageously good occasion wines.
The days of huge, high alcohol Aussie reds are fading into the past. You needn’t look any further than Coonawarra. Don’t believe us? The proof is in the glass.